Overview: The Cavs were unable to recover from a 57-39 1st-half drubbing, shooting 35% from the floor and losing 101-91 to the Raptors.
It is so not time to panic. It is very far from being a time to panic. If the Cavs were 2-0, it’s not like everybody would be celebrating. That said, it is time for a good deal of concern. Onward and upward:
-LeBron James put up another monster line, putting up 23/11/12 for his first triple-double of the year, but this wasn’t nearly as strong as a performance as he had last night. In terms of his scoring game, this is what a bad LeBron games performance looks like. Only 2-11 from outside of the paint on Wednesday, and even his performance from the free throw line (8-14) was less than thrilling. When LeBron can’t get his outside shot going or find a groove working off the ball, what you get are some awkward forced drives where he’s basically looking to draw contact. And while he did get 14 free throws tonight, his shaky FT stroke meant even that wasn’t the best of plays. He did some nice work in the middle of the floor and was able to find his shooters for 12 assists, but overall LeBron was forcing it more than he was feeling it on Wednesday. A bravura LBJ performance probably means the Cavs win this game. At the end of the day, that’s one thing you know will be there more often than not.
In the file of Good Things: Small-ball. MB went with Mo/Boobie/Parker/LBJ/Varejao to start the third quarter, and the result was some beautiful basketball and a 32-21 quarter for the Cavaliers, who had just looked god-awful up to that point. LeBron had space in the middle of the floor, Mo immediately made his signature dive to the corner for an open three, Parker was banging in open threes, and even Boobie was having a good time. It looked like real basketball for a little while there.
-And let’s have some kudos for Boobie, who had a fabulous little game tonight. His scoring inside the arc remains consistently atrocious, failing to make a 2-point FG in 34 minutes tonight. But he knew where to be, had 3 assists (good for 2nd on the team, horrifyingly), and was looking like his own self from deep, going to the spots and catch-and-shooting to the tune of 4-8 from beyond the arc. A +12 for Boobie in 34 minutes tonight. (For those of you keeping score at home, this means the Cavs gave up 22 points in the 14 minutes Boobie sat. Yipes.)
More fun with +/-; The Cavs gave up 12 points during the 8 minutes LeBron was on the bench.
Less fun with +/-; The Cavs were -25 in Shaq’s 25 minutes on the floor. Now, it’s understandable that there are going to be some Shaq-related growing pains. Mo was able to come in right away because he addressed a lot of serious weaknesses on the team and didn’t bring any particular weak points to the table. Shaq is different. This is a player with some very serious strengths and equally glaring weaknesses, and trying to integrate that into an existing and successful formula is not going to happen overnight.
That said, Shaq tonight was miserable. Offensively, Shaq just looks awful running pick-and-roll sets. A lot of what the Cavs like to do early in the game is initiate the offense with Mo getting a ball-screen, and with Shaq’s lazy picks and lack of range the “show” man was absolutely smothering Mo, chasing him out to half-court, and putting the offense in a tremendous bind. Shaq’s gotta be close to the rim offensively to be effective. Not rocket science, but not a concept the Cavs have grasped at this point. And since Andy can’t do much on the perimeter, there doesn’t appear to be an easy fix with the existing starting lineup. And if Shaq’s going to be anything less than devastating when he gets 1-on-1 coverage in the post, things are not going to be good offensively.
Defensively, the news was even worse. Shaq just looks absolutely miserable defending the pick-and-roll. Again, not new news. But watching the Cavs desperately rotating on defense and trying to play catch-up on Shaq’s man was like watching the Magic series all over again. To borrow a saying from Arnovitz, it might be time to truth-squad this one a little bit. Shaq absolutely murdered Phoenix’s defensive efficiency last season, and it’s been a few years since he played on a defense that wasn’t atrocious. Again, the hope is that MB can turn his around-the-rim defense into an asset like he did with Z, but it sure hasn’t materialized yet. There’s obviously a lot of time here, and there will be some growth and gelling over the coming months, but I’d prefer proactive solutions instead of continuing to bang heads into the wall playing Shaq in his current rotations.
And speaking of banging heads into the wall, Shaq and Andy together just doesn’t work offensively. It doesn’t work on paper, and it has failed spectacularly on the court so far. Shaq needs a power forward who can shoot. It’s that simple. There are a few solutions to this problem:
1. Play LeBron next to Shaq at the four. This happened tonight, and did seem to work. However, I’d really like to see Shaq work in non-LeBron lineups, considering how glaring of a weakness those have been and continue to be. So on that track, the options become:
2. Take your chances with Jamario Moon at the 4. Defensively, there are mismatch issues, but I’m generally willing to take my chances with a mismatch on a 2nd unit, where the players generally aren’t good enough to light teams up on their own. More on Moon later.
3. Take a leap of faith with JJ Hickson next to Shaq. JJ isn’t a lights-out shooter by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s got enough of a stroke from 18 that defenses at least have to guard him out there, and it’s conceivable that it could become Joe Smith-passable with confidence and practice. And he’s such a good athlete that he’s dangerous with a hard drive and jam catching on the weak side.
4. Find someone in a trade. I imagine this is why the SJax-to-Cleveland rumors appear to remain hot.
You know what’s not a solution? PLAYING SHAQ AND Z TOGETHER. I understand that Z can stretch the floor as a big, but really, are we having serious time right now? This killed the Cavs’ comeback chances in the fourth tonight. There’s just no chance that pair can keep up with any frontcourt in the league, let alone guys with Bosh and Bargnani’s speed. And it’s not like Z’s post game is good enough to truly punish a size mismatch on the other end. I’m a fairly staunch Mike Brown apologist for a lot of reasons, but man, every now and then he’ll make you scratch your head. When the Good Lord was ladling out common sense, the big spoon must’ve been dirty during Mike Brown’s turn.
-Andy also had some real struggles tonight, failing to make a field goal. He seems to have worked on his post game, and does catch people off guard with fakes, but his bread-and-butter is still diving to the basket with the floor spaced well around him, and that wasn’t happening tonight. Hey, maybe him and Z should be playing together! That’s so crazy, it might just get the Cavs 66 wins! Wait, that already happened.
-In the “mitigating factors” department: The offensive dropoff from Delonte to Anthony Parker is pretty severe. He’s wonderful as a spot-up shooter, but when he gets chased off the line his game isn’t much. Delonte was fantastic at making a hard drive or getting the ball to the weak side of the floor when he got chased off the line. In contrast, Anthony keeps the ball on his side of the court and seems to be in love with an array of off-balance jumpers, which don’t go in all that often. That’s a significant issue when it comes to jumpers.
-Also, I’m really worried that I was fooled by Moon. Not to venture into Simmons territory here, but you know how you’ll be at a party, and there’s a cute girl who’s friends with a bunch of your friends, and actually seems pretty cool and nice, but everyone looks at you and sort of shakes their head and laughs? Every discussion I’ve had about Moon with people that know his game has been EXACTLY LIKE THAT. On paper, he just seems so nice. Great finisher, solid shooter, good defensive numbers, great defensive tools-seems like a money role player, right? So why do I find myself cringing every time he launches a jumper, and get nervous every time he tries to lock on defensively?
For anyone who got the Raps broadcast on LP tonight, there was a moment where Moon was guarding Hedo, who should under no circumstances be able to drive by Moon one-on-one. But I got that sinking feeling, and before I knew it he bit on the smallest of up-fakes as Hedo got into the paint and drew contact. After that happened, the Raps broadcaster said “well, we know Jamario will bite on up-fakes,” then shared a knowing, gleeful cackle with the color guy. I cannot impress upon you enough how creepy and unsettling this was. I’m spooked by Moon now. I defended signing you over Matt Barnes, darnit.
Bullets of Randomness:
-The #1 overall picks playing tonight were LeBron, Shaq, and Andrea Bargnani. Who would’ve guessed that the high scorer in that group would be Andrea? He looked flat-out beastly tonight. Playing against Shaq and Z’s glacial butts helped, but he was raining jumpers, making cuts, and blowing by people. A wow performance, maybe even a lightbulb moment. Andy getting him into foul trouble by drawing back-to-back offensive fouls in the 3rd was a huge reason the Cavs were able to stay in the game.
-Less impressive were Bosh and Turk, but they did get the job done.
-DeRozan, on the other hand, is doing the Eric Snow “I can’t shoot threes, but corner jumpers from 20 feet are basically as good” thing. That doesn’t work in the NBA. You want to be an offensive asset as a wing player off the ball, get yourself legit 3-point range.
-Belinelli had a +19 in 19 minutes, and was generally beasting. Can’t believe the Warriors let him go for a song-also can’t believe DeRozan is starting over him at this point in DD’s development.
-Rasho freaking Nesterovic was making our bigs look a step slow by pick-and-popping tonight. RASH-O NES-TER-O-VIC. (You know you just heard Stephen A. say that in your head. Don’t lie.)
-Alright, that’s all for now. Again, let’s nobody panic. There are 80 more of these, and then the real season begins. Hopefully this game will be good in the long run by forcing MB to tackle some of the rotational issues head-on. Not the best week to play 4 games in 5 days, but things will get better. So instead of flipping the panic switch, let’s listen to “Panic Switch.” That bassist is the coolest person ever. (Behind the scenes-I really wanted to post the unplugged version of this song, which is exponentially more awesome, but embedding was disabled. Tonight is just not my night.) Until tomorrow, campers.